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Dutch FM steps down for lying about meeting with Putin

Xinhua | Updated: 2018-02-14 01:26

THE HAGUE - Dutch foreign minister Halbe Zijlstra resigned on Tuesday over lying about a 2006 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, ahead of a debate on his position in the Dutch lower house of parliament.

Zijlstra was supposed to fly to Russia later on Tuesday for a meeting with his Russian colleague Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday. Before the debate in The Hague, Dutch opposition parties were questioning his credibility and argued Zijlstra could no longer function as foreign affairs minister. Zijlstra concurred and announced his resignation.

"This is by far the biggest mistake in my political career," Zijlstra said. "There is too much doubt about my functioning as Dutch foreign minister. This is my own decision."

After admitting on Monday to Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant to have lied about the meeting with Putin, Zijlstra still received the support of Prime Minister Mark Rutte and several government parties. However, his position became weaker on Tuesday after new revelations he not only lied about being present at a meeting with Putin, but also misinterpreted the words of the Russian President.

During a speech at a congress of his party the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) in May 2016, the current Dutch FM claimed to have attended a meeting with Putin and that he heard the Russian President talk about a "Great Russia".

Contrary to his earlier claims, Zijlstra admitted he was not present at the meeting and that the reason he made up the story about his presence was to protect his source. This source appeared to be former Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer, who wrote in an email to de Volkskrant on Tuesday that Zijlstra misinterpreted his words on Putin.

"The interpretation in an aggressive manner is not mine, nor my use of words," van der Veer explained.

Zijlstra's resignation is a major blow for his career and for Rutte's third government. The 49-year-old VVD politician was one of the main architects of the current coalition. He has served as foreign affairs minister since the new government was formed in October of last year. Previously, Zijlstra worked as VVD Member of Parliament, state secretary for education, culture and science, and as chairman of the VVD in the House of Representatives.

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